Addressing the social, spiritual and practical issues of life was a  highlight of the 2019 Senior Spirituality Day held July 24 in St. Dominic Parish, Brick. Mike Ehrmann photos
Addressing the social, spiritual and practical issues of life was a  highlight of the 2019 Senior Spirituality Day held July 24 in St. Dominic Parish, Brick. Mike Ehrmann photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Some 400 older adults at the annual diocesan Senior Spirituality Day July 24 got an inspirational boost from a leading Catholic author on how to make the most of the second half of their lives spiritually, socially and practically.

Photo Gallery: 2019 Senior Spirituality Day

From the buzz around the large campus of St. Dominic Parish, Brick, the suggestions offered by Paulist Father Tom Ryan had a positive effect. So did the homily of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., which shined a light on the gifts senior offer to generations of faithful.

During the daylong event, Father Ryan urged everyone to “take a fresh look” at their lives and strive to recognize the strengths of each of life’s seasons. Especially important, he said, is realizing that though seniors may not be able to “work or think as fast” as they used to, it is vital to “come to terms” with the season they are in now.

“Wisdom,” he said, “comes from knowing the things you deeply realize.” Those things, Father Ryan said, are gleaned from the “the experience of living, the suffering and the joy… what we know to be important and what is not.”

The perspective gained as people age, he said, allows them to “grow in new ways. It is born of experience.”

His words were echoed by Bishop O’Connell during Mass. In his homily, the Bishop drew on his own experience with aging, saying, “I woke up one day and discovered that I had become a senior citizen! I should have seen it coming,” he said to the knowing applause of the crowd.

“Of course, it’s important to laugh at ourselves and not to take ourselves too seriously,” Bishop O’Connell said. “When you think of it, God has blessed us senior citizens with so many gifts, not the least of which is a long life” – and the Catholic faith.

“The realization that the longer we live, the more time God gives us to draw closer to him, to receive his grace, to enjoy his presence, to prepare ourselves for eternity with him – the goal of faith. The longer we live, the more time we have to make someone else’s life happier and better,” he said.

Be ‘Really Alive’

Similarly, Father Ryan urged his audience to face each new challenge with an upbeat attitude and develop new approaches to the changes that come with aging. For instance, he said, when it comes to beauty, “especially in a culture that reveres the young, trust that nature knows best. Recognize the wonder of silver and gray and the slower rhythms that capture the wonder of life.”

Above all, he said, “take the time to appreciate being really alive” by creating a retirement that balances fun and service with love. “Of everything, love is the most important. Whoever does not love, does not know God.”

“Be more careful to love intentionally. Cultivate [love] as a reality, not in the abstract but here and now. Be responsive to a neighbor’s joy or a loved one’s grief. Make a continual choice to keep love at the center,” said Father Ryan, who directs the North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Boston for his community, the Paulist Fathers. A noted writer and poet, he has authored or co-authored 17 books on the spiritual life.

Remember that the “season of life we are in is not about being diminished ... It is a time to come out of the shadows and into the light,” he added.

Setting Priorities

Father Ryan’s presentations on aging creatively and gracefully and making the most of life in all stages of life hit the right note with participants as many responded to his gentle admonitions and advice with nods of agreement.

Mary Ann Bluff, a longtime member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, said she had taken to heart his advice about keeping invigorated by learning new skills. “He made me more aware of what is possible,” she said.

“I always wanted to learn how to speak Spanish,” she added, speaking on how Father Ryan suggested seniors learn a new language. “His suggestion … was a real help. It made me aware that it’s still possible.”

Deanna Sass, Department of Pastoral Care director, said the crowd’s enthusiasm reflected the way Father Ryan’s advice was on point. This included keeping a running balance sheet comparing fun and service activities for inspiration.

“What he gave us to do was very enlightening,” Sass said. “It was a good way to see if important parts of your life are in balance.”

Other highlights of the day, sponsored by the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, included a festive lunch capped by the lively beat of the “Rock ‘n Rhythm” ensemble, which spurred the crowd to get up from the lunch tables and dance.

The Bishop thanked the Department of Pastoral Care and St. Dominic Parish for their efforts with the Senior Spirituality Day, which was forced to change locations only hours before it began. The event was set to be held in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, but loss of electrical power there from a sudden storm July 22 forced the event to be re-located.

Sass said the events mirrored Father Ryan’s advice to trust in God. “This was all in God’s hands,” she said, from the storm to the rearranging. “And here we are, learning, singing, eating, praying with each other. This whole day is a prayer.”

Indeed, many seniors spoke of how pleased they were that the event wasn’t canceled. 

“It really was great that they were able to make the switch and get the information out,” said Deacon Keith J. Casey of St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, who attended with his wife, Carol. “We got three emails and a phone call. They didn’t want to miss anyone.”